Stone keeps pushing forward

Austin Stone, left, jokes around with former Tonganoxie High School 4x400 relay team members Bret Koch, middle, and Jeremy Carlisle, right, during a reception for another 4x400 team member, DJ Lindsay, who was signing to run track at Wichita State University. Stone keeps in touch with former classmates at Tonganoxie High School. Enlarge photo

April 7, 2010

As he sits at the drum set during music class at the Kansas State School for the Blind in Kansas City, Kan., Austin Stone continues to settle into his daily routine.

The Tonganoxie man walks with a cane. He is aided by two full-time paraprofessionals, one who helps him during the school day and the other aids him at home in the dorms.

“It’s frustrating,” said Stone, who was injured in a medical gas accident in 2009. “Some days are better than others.”

One year ago, Stone was hospitalized following a freak accident in a dental chair that left him legally blind, hard of hearing and with limited use of his gross motor skills. He’s trying to relearn many skills, such as reading, washing dishes and cooking for himself.

In Stone’s effort to regain his independence, he says he’s learned that when life throws a curve ball, you must adapt. It’s that attitude that he would like to pass on to other young people.

“I was planning to go to college on a track scholarship. ... You saw where that got me,” Stone said jokingly. “What I would like to do now is take some speaking classes and try to become a motivational speaker.”

The former Tonganoxie High School runner feels his “inner athlete” has helped him find his own motivation in this tough situation. He believes children will listen to his stories.

“I prove to myself that I am what I claim to be,” Stone said. “I don’t think I would have this good of an attitude if I wasn’t an athlete because I think this is the athlete coming out in me.”

Last Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of when Stone was injured during a routine wisdom tooth removal at the Lawrence dental surgery center of Dr. S. Kirk Vincent at 4811 Bob Billings Parkway. In a letter to the city of Lawrence alerting them of the incident, Vincent said he was unaware that the medical gas lines were incorrectly installed in the newly constructed building. According to the Stone family, when Stone began receiving gas as part of the procedure, he lost consciousness, stopped breathing and was rushed to Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

“The first thing I remember is waking and saying, ‘Where the heck am I?’” he said of the accident. “I didn’t really grasp the full concept of what had happened to me until my dad explained it to me. I knew that I had been in some kind of accident because my vision was gone.”

In the past year Stone has spent time in and out of hospitals and worked to regain much of his movement. He also received his diploma from Tonganoxie High School during a special ceremony last August.

Each day presents new challenges for Stone, but he is determined to overcome them all. His love for music helps him with this.

“I think the elements of rhythm in music have helped him with his motor output,” said Della Molloy, Stone’s music teacher. “But also being a 19-year-old guy who really loves music and feels like that’s a great outlet when he’s having a bad day. It’s great.”

Molloy and Stone play music when they walk Stone around the school’s campus. She says the music’s rhythm helps him walk.

Stone believes playing the drums and playing music alongside several other visually impaired students helps him emotionally.

“I am unable to run, so music is a release for me,” he said.

Today, he is carrying a full class load, enduring daily physical therapy and, like most 19-year-old students, trying to keep his dorm room clean.

Stone says his struggles are just beginning as he tries to return his life to some sense of normalcy. He’s thankful for his family, friends and the staff at the Kansas State School for the Blind.

“I want to tell people, ‘No matter how low you get or how bad you are, don’t give up because once you’re at the bottom, it can only go up,’ ” he said.

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